i thought it might have been snowmelt, or a leaking water main; those happen a lot in the spring. but when we got closer, the smell rose from the cold earth and signaled a sewage leak. i looked down at the dog, his short, fluffy white legs scrabbling on the pavement as he strained to inspect the thing that repelled me.

this smell brings me back to summers at my grandmother's; for my daily lessons, i crossed a small bridge that spanned a canal. it was an open sewage channel, where butchers dumped their slop, tenants dumped their chamber pots, pedestrians chucked their cigarettes. in the baking dry beijing july, not only would my cousins and i cover our faces and mouths, but sometimes closed our eyes. the smell clung to our clothes and hair.

one year, that i spent at home, i heard that the sewer had finally been covered. i looked forward to crossing campus without the stench during my next visit. in my dismay, though, i saw that there was a constant low trickle of sludge over the covered channel; rather than getting access to the underground sewage system, people continued to heave their refuse over the railings of the bridges, down along the concrete canal sides. there was a second, new sewage channel now, several feet closer to the footbridge than before.

i tightened my grip on the leash, dragging the dog back out into the street, rather than trying to lift him over the brown rivulet flowing from my neighbor's front yard to the nearest stormdrain seven houses away.

08 April 2018 22:42

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